This is an interesting article on our history of consuming sugar, and the possible evolutionary influences that led our ancestors to eat fruits in the first place, and current concerns.
Monthly Archives: February 2014
I have tried about all the artificial sweeteners, but discovered that most of them caused me to crave as bad or worse than sugar. Of all I’ve tried thus far only the Now brand stevia drops have been over-all good for the very few things I want to sweeten (no doubt other brands are good, but this is my choice of the ones I’ve tried).
One good thing about stevia is that the plant has been in use for decades, and is closer to being truly natural than all the others; so far I’ve not heard anything to suggest there is any reason to not use it.
I still think the best thing is to wean off the taste of sweet as much as possible.
Here is a post from Mark’s Daily Apple that gives a good run down on stevia, especially that it does not appear to impact insulin, which is the most important part from my point of view.
Yours in learning,
Nan aka Sugarbaby
Stevia is an herbaceous family of plants, 240 species strong, that grows in sub-tropical and tropical America (mostly South and Central, but some North). Stevia the sweetener refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which you can grow and use as or with tea (it was traditionally paired with yerba mate in South America) or, dried and powdered, as a sugar substitute that you sprinkle on. It’s apparently quite easy to grow (according to the stevia seller who tries to get me to buy a plant or two whenever I’m at the Santa Monica farmers’ market), and the raw leaf is very sweet.
Most stevia you’ll come across isn’t in its raw, unprocessed form, but in powdered or liquid extract form. The “sweet” lies in the steviol glycosides – stevioside and rebaudioside –
which are isolated in these extracts. Some products use just one, while others use both stevioside and rebaudioside. Stevioside is the most prevalent glycoside in stevia, and some say it provides the bitter aftertaste that people sometimes complain about; rebaudioside is said to be the better tasting steviol glycoside, with far less bitterness. Most of the “raw or natural” stevia products use the full range of glycosides, but the more processed brands will most likely isolate one or more of the steviol glycosides. The popular Truvia brand of stevia products uses only rebaudioside, as do both PureVia and Enliten. Different brands provide different conversion rates, but compared to sucrose, stevioside is generally about 250-300 times as sweet and rebaudioside is about 350-450 times as sweet.
Does Stevia Affect Insulin?
There is one in vitro study that showed stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to stimulate insulin secretion and another which shows similarly insulinotropic effects of rebaudioside, which may give you pause. Insulin secretion sounds like an insulin spike, no? And since we tend to be wary of unneeded insulin spikes, maybe we should avoid stevia. It’s not so simple, of course. For one, this was an in vitro study, performed in a super-controlled laboratory petri dish type setting; this was not an in vivo study of animals or people eating stevia in a natural, organic way. The results of in vitro studies are notorious for not panning out when you try to replicate them in vivo. Secondly, insulin secretion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, we need it to shuttle nutrients into cells, and we’d die without it. As I mentioned in the dairy post a few weeks back, insulin is millions upon millions of years old. It’s been preserved throughout history because it’s an essential hormone. It’s not always the bad guy, especially if you’re insulin sensitive.
In fact, the evidence is mounting that stevia actually is an insulin sensitizer that can aid in glucose tolerance and clearance after a meal. The Japanese have been using stevia for decades in the treatment of type 2 diabetics. Let’s look at a few recent studies. In fructose-fed rats, a single instance of oral stevioside increased insulin sensitivity and reduced postprandial blood glucose in a dose-dependent manner. The same study also found that diabetic rats given stevioside required less exogenous insulin for the same effect. Taken together, these results suggest that stevia may not just be a good sugar substitute for
diabetics, but an effective supplement for treatment of their insulin resistance.
Another study looked at the postprandial effects of stevia, sucrose, and aspartame in human subjects. Compared to sucrose eaters, stevia eaters showed lower postprandial blood sugar levels. Compared to both sucrose and aspartame eaters, stevia eaters had far lower postprandial insulin levels. Furthermore, eating stevia did not induce increased appetite throughout the day, indicating stable blood sugar and satiety levels. Another strike in stevia’s favor.
Any Other Effects?
There are other potential benefits to using stevia unrelated to its apparent benefits on glycemic control. Here are a few studies I was able to dig up:
- When combined with inulin, a soluble prebiotic fiber, low-dose stevia increased HDL while lowering overall lipids in male rats. Alone, low-dose stevia lowered cholesterol without the potentially beneficial effect on HDL. It’s also useful to note that high-dose stevia negatively affected some toxic parameters – so don’t eat spoonfuls of stevia (not that you would) – but long term low-dose stevia was deemed safe.
- Lipid numbers are fun and all, but we’re really interested in avoiding atherosclerotic plaque buildup. In mice treated with stevioside, oxidized LDL was reduced, overall plaque volume was reduced, and insulin sensitivity increased. Overall, atherosclerosis was reduced in the stevioside-treated mice. I couldn’t dig up exactly how they were “treated,” however, but they were given doses of 10 mg/kg.
- In another study, mice memory was impaired by administration of scopolamine, an anticholigernic found in the intensely hallucinogenic jimson weed (or devil’s weed) and datura. Impaired mice were given oral stevioside (250 mg/kg) and tested for memory retention. Memory deficit was largely reversed with administration of stevioside, which also reduced the brain oxidative damage caused by scopolamine. Clinically relevant? Perhaps not, but it’s interesting.
- A two-year randomized, placebo-controlled study of Chinese patients with mild hypertension (which a rather large swath of society probably suffers from) found that oral stevioside intake significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Patients either took a 500 mg capsule of stevioside or a placebo three times a day for two years. The hypertension situation improved across the board and no downsides were reported or detected. Also of note is the fact that slightly more patients in the placebo group developed left ventricular hypertrophy, a pathological thickening of the heart muscle. Of course, another study using far lower doses (up to 15 mg/kg/day) found no anti-hypertensive effects, so it appears that the dose is key. Maybe somewhere in the middle works well, as one study in hypertensive dogs showed: they used 200 mg/kg to normalize blood pressure in the canine subjects.
We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don’t consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. It may induce insulin secretion, but it increases insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose (i.e., the insulin is doing its job), and does not increase appetite. It’s been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades. The goofy health food store dude who claims aspartame was created by Donald Rumsfeld to give us cancer may be a vociferous supporter of it, but don’t hold that against stevia. I’m a fan of the stuff and recommend it as a Primal way to satisfy a sweet tooth.
What do you guys think of stevia? Love it? Hate it? Have you ever used its potential therapeutic effects? Let me know in the comment section!
We keep it simple around here, meaning I cook. Valentines and Mothers Days are the two busiest restaurant days of the year; not times I want to go out. You can find lots of HFLC goodies on the web, so I’m just giving the menu. Heart-shaped anything says love, so my meatloaf will fit the bill.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Meatloaf (heart shaped, topped with lc homemade ketchup)
Chocolate lava cake
Some wine, a HFLC meal, and the beloved!
I am affected by the outdoor weather. When it’s blazing hot, I have almost no appetite; one of the rare times I don’t want to eat. Conversely, when the weather is cold, snowy, rainy, I like to have warm and comforting foods. A blanket of snow calls for chili, soup, stew, casseroles, any such very warming food.
You are also affected by the weather, to a greater or lesser degree, though you may not be aware of the connection. We are often not aware that outside climate factors can have a great impact on our desire to eat, and the kinds of foods we want to eat; they also impact our sleep, desire to move, and other behaviors.
Some people are brought very low, even to depression by certain kinds of weather, particularly during the short days of winter. But other kinds of weather can also make people react at a very deep biological level. High winds unsettle most people, deep cold, that is, temperatures that fall well below freezing make people uneasy. Very bright sunlight, or simply bright light often affects people prone to migraine or other neurological disorders.
If you have not yet, begin to take note of the way you feel in various kinds of weather conditions. I joke with my family that 72F with a light breeze is my idea of good weather, but I also find a comfort on rainy, cool afternoons when I can be at home settled in a chair with a good book or movie.
When I did my most detailed journals of my food, along with noting mood, I noted the weather; not surprisingly, there was often a correlation. Days when I felt unsettled, antsy, aggravated, such as when the winds were high, I tended to be hungry, and want to eat more often.
Just a reminder that we developed in closer connection with the out-of-doors than we tend to live now, but we are still very much a part of the changes going on there whether we realize it or not.
Yours in knowledge,
Nan aka Sugarbaby
I would have said at one time that it was impossible I would lose my taste for sweets, but to my surprise, after the last few years of very low carb eating, my taste for sweet has vastly diminished. Last night I was out to dinner with friends, I didn’t give the bread basket a second thought, then a dessert sampler was ordered for the table by one of my friends. I would have declined dessert if we had ordered individually. But, my friends are not on my low sugar-starch diet, and I don’t make a big deal when out with others.
So this big dessert platter with four desserts was put in the middle of the table. At one time I would have dived in and had my fair share, but instead I nabbed the strawberry settled on some whipped cream, had one tiny bite each of two of the desserts, an apple tart and a sticky pudding, and had no desire for more, indeed it was a ‘ho-hum’ experience. I just had no desire for any more. At the time I was not thinking much about it, but when I got home I realized what a different experience I just had from the years when I had to have my very own dessert in order to enjoy the meal.
So, take heart if you are still struggling with avoiding sweets. By maintaining good habits at home–no sweets live here–and avoiding most situations that are personal triggers, like convenience stores were for me, then given enough time, months to a couple years, we do gradually lose our super-sweetened palates and find pleasure in much healthier options. I make pumpkin custards, almond flour cup cakes, mousses, etc., sweetened only with a little bit of liquid stevia, and enjoy such treats as much or more than the old heavy sugar desserts.
All the negative issues with weight, inflammation in the cells, brain fog, and other such bad reactions to sugars-starches-artificial sweeteners, are enough to keep me on the path of good health which for me is anti-sugar.
Even when you fall off the wagon, and we all have, in the early days especially, take heart–it will get easier.
When you no longer feel deprived, you no longer want what is bad for you. To get to that point requires both habit changes and a change of mindset, but the good news is that it can be done.
Yours in learning,
Nan aka Sugarbaby